Proof of Relevance

27 May

This weekend I flew home for a memorial day wedding, one of the largest I’ve been to. The weekend festivities coincided with a strange time in my life. I have to make a decision in the next week on which team I’d like to rotate to next at my job. The last piece of advice I received before boarding my plane for the week home, was what I should do, depends on what I want.

What do I want?

Four simple words coming together to form a query so confounding that I found myself standing among a swarm of dancing, drinking, joyful individuals wondering why I was here. The groom is the son of a close family friends, but in truth I haven’t spoken to him in years and can’t recall us ever having a conversation of real substance. No fault of either of us, just a reality of our relationship. The bride I met the previous night for the first time in an event that had more than 800 attendees. She never got my name much less genealogical relationship to her to prove my relevance. And so there I was, standing in the middle of the dance floor, whose merriment just moments before I had been partaking in, when it occurred that if I wasn’t here, if I hadn’t attended, no one would have noticed.

Maybe it was because there were over 1100 attendees at the wedding. Maybe it was because I haven’t lived at home for seven years, of which the past two have been 2,000 plus miles away (previously I had been only a 3 1/2 hr drive for context). Maybe it’s because we’re all older, forming new friendships that have overlaid the old ones. Maybe it’s because I don’t call enough, e-mail enough, skype enough. Maybe it’s because I had seen my father, a key coordinator in the wedding planning, for a grand total of 45 minutes in the 36 hours since I had landed. Maybe it’s because I don’t have an i-phone and can’t Factime with the rest of my family. Whatever the reason I realized I wanted to feel special. And in that moment I felt utterly un-special, irrelevant and of no consequence.

I absolutely consent this is a fairly selfish thought to have at someone else’s wedding, “What about me!?” But the wedding simply exposed a feeling in me that has been lingering for sometime in the shadows. I want to feel like I matter to other people. I want to feel like I have an influence or impact on their life and my attendance is noticed. I want that feedback, want it to be incorporated into my day to day, my job. And I want to feel like my job enables me to create, whether it’s a physical object or an experience or information assembled in a new way– I want to create as a form of expression. And I want that too to be part of my job.

These two desires: influence & creation really reduce to the same existential notion of proof relevance.

I’d like to say that I have some deep incite to add, an epiphany on this subject. At the very least I’d like to say I didn’t let these big picture concerns prevent me from enjoying the moment. That I’d un-paralyzed myself and  rejoined the celebration around me and danced the night away. But I can’t.

As I drifted off to sleep once home, the last words I read were from author Cheryl Strayed in her book Tiny Beautiful Things:

“I’m not suggesting one deny negative emotions, but rather that you accept them and move through them by embracing the power we have to keep from wallowing in emotions that don’t serve us well.”

Those last few words “keep from wallowing in emotions that don’t serve us well” really resonate. I’m not sure where any of this leaves me. Probably a combination of adjusting expectations and desires along with making tangible changes to my career and lifestyle. I will probably still continue to attend the weddings of acquaintances (I hope with greater compassion and unconditional love). Ultimately I have to reconcile my desire for relevance with my belief that life does not have any knowable meaning beyond what we assign it.  But that will be a long journey. Last night I was a little blue, today I’m more optimistic. There will be many more nights and days like these in the future. Love, human connections and the multifaceted ways that these two elements are expressed, help substantially. That is all. Nothing novel or highly insightful but at least it all leaves me with a little bit of calm.


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